Study Finds More Than Half of Jewelry Tested Contains High Levels of Hazardous Chemicals
One in four pieces of costume jewelry contains more than 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead, a recent study found. The report, published Tuesday by nonprofit environmental organization The Ecology Center and HealthyStuff.org, found that 57 percent of products tested had high levels of one or more hazardous chemicals.
The study analyzed 99 pieces of costume jewelry with an X-ray fluorescence device (XRF) to detect the presence and level of chemicals deemed hazardous by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Items were purchased from 14 different retailers in December 2011: Ming 99 Cent City, Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Big Lots, Claire's, Forever 21, Glitter, Walmart, H&M, Meijers, Kohl's, Justice, Icing and Hot Topic. Most products were purchased for less than $10.
One of the most commonly occurring chemicals found was lead, with 49 percent of all items containing a detectable level. Of that, 27 percent of all items contained lead levels higher than the 300 ppm permitted for use in children's products per the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
Several other carcinogenic chemicals were found in the items tested. Almost half of the jewelry (47 percent) contained cadmium, a metal that made headlines last year due to its connections with liver and kidney damage. Ten percent of the items contained over 100 ppm of cadmium, exceeding the CPSC's recommendations of 75 ppm.
Arsenic, an extremely poisonous element that is fatal in large doses, was found in excess of 100 ppm in 13 percent of the jewelry, well above the CPSC's limit of 25 ppm. Mercury was also found in 5 percent of the items, and almost all contained known allergens chromium (93 percent) or nickel (30 percent).
"There is no excuse for jewelry, especially children's jewelry, to be made with some of the most well-studied and dangerous substances on the planet," said Jeff Gearhart, research director at The Ecology Center and founder of HealthyStuff.org. "We urge manufacturers to start replacing these chemicals with non-toxic substances immediately."
Scott Wolfson, director of communications for the CPSC, told CBS that a majority of the items tested were for adults and were not intended for children, but explained that there is still cause for concern as children up to 9 may still put items in their mouth.
Even if the items are not specifically targeted toward children, The Ecology Center said a reasonable argument could be made that certain pieces could be classified as children's products, due to the low price point and demographics of somes stores (Claire's, Icing, Hot Topic). The CPSC has said that regulations for jewelry are "superseded by the statutory requirements of CPSIA" if the item could reasonably be considered a children's product.
Of the 39 items rated as "high" for overall levels of harmful chemicals, every one that The Ecology Center could track down was manufactured in China (researchers could not ascertain the country of origin for 7 of those 39 products). In total, 90 of the 99 pieces of jewerly tested came from factories in China.
The HealthyStuff.org study highlights a major flaw in the U.S. safety regulations. Many items that children could come in contact with, such as costume jewelry, are made overseas by companies that do not necessarily adhere to U.S. requirements. Businesses importing anything that could be considered a children's product, including promotional products companies as well as retailers, should be prepared to test and verify the safety of any items they sell. Members of the promotional product community need to be especially cautious, as an item that was not intended as a children's product when manufactured may be considered one if it receives an age-appropriate imprint.
The full list of tested products as well as the findings of the report are available on HealthyStuff.org.
Kyle A. Richardson is the editorial director of Promo Marketing. He joined the company in 2006 brings more than a decade of publishing, marketing and media experience to the magazine. If you see him, buy him a drink.